With a dedicated team of students and staff, and with a little help from the Farm to School and Early Childhood Education team, school gardens are sprouting up across Arkansas at a dizzying pace. It takes an ambitious and dedicated group of people to make these gardens possible because starting a school garden requires time, labor, resources, and funding. As schools experience the success and intuitive learning that occurs through a school garden program, advancing these programs statewide has become a serious and worthwhile priority.
Once established, school gardens become an asset to their students, local businesses, and community. Creating an experimental learning environment with hands-on training is a phenomenal way to help students appreciate the healthy foods they grow. When children see the fruit of their labor, they are more inclined to favor their crops as a nutritious alternative to processed foods. Local businesses and community members can become involved to support the garden and help market the produce. For these reasons and many more, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture was excited to launch the Arkansas School Garden Grant Program.
In October, the Department dedicated funding to start-ups and existing school gardens to help them meet their goals through the Arkansas School Garden Grant Program. Funding is provided by the United States Department of Agriculture through Specialty Crop Block Grant funding. These grants are intended to assist schools with purchasing a variety of necessary items for the gardens such as specialty crop seeds and plants, soil, and gardening equipment. Grantees also receive dedicated support from the Department with technical assistance, training, and resources.
Over 80 schools in Arkansas applied for the grant, underscoring the rising demand for school gardens and the services they provide to participating school systems. To receive the grant, applicants had to demonstrate that the garden is embedded in the school culture and is sustainable long-term. Applicants were also encouraged to maintain a school garden oversight committee, explain how the garden supports education, and show how it engages community stakeholders such as farmers, businesses, non-profits, and other relatable organizations.
Out of the 80 schools that applied for the grant, about two-thirds of the schools were awarded funding in 2020. Twelve of those schools were early care and education facilities while four others were alternative learning environments. The grant administrators are also proud to proclaim that many schools in underfunded areas of the state, particularly in the southern and eastern regions of Arkansas, received school garden funding.
Here is a list of the Arkansas School Garden Grant Program Awards:
For those interested in starting or expanding a school garden, funding is available in more ways than one. Check out these other funding streams available to support school gardens across Arkansas:
The Arkansas Grown School Garden of the Year Contest was created by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture and Farm Credit Associations of Arkansas to support, promote, and award school gardens that create innovative and educational opportunities at their schools. In 2020, six schools were awarded funding and recognition with a variety of awards including Best Start-up, Best Harvest Partnership, and Best Community Collaboration.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is supporting school gardens by offering grant money for conservation education. Game and Fish fines in counties across Arkansas are allocated back to the counties in which they were collected. A school district that wants to receive this fine money must submit an application on the form provided by the Division of Rural Services.
The Arkansas Farm Bureau is committed to furthering outdoor classrooms and educational gardening. This grant is intended to highlight the importance of agriculture in our communities by supporting “farms, wildlife, forestry, people, and cities”.
Seeing as school gardens support healthy schools and communities, the Blue and You Foundation offers their Mini-Grant Program that may award up to $1,000 to eligible applicants. Applications for the mini-grants are accepted from January 1 to February 15 annually.
Apple Seeds Inc. has partnered with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance and the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute to provide training, classroom events, and $500 stipends to those who incorporate the Grow MyPlate curriculum into their School Garden Program.
The USDA offers an annual grant to support the planning, development, and implementation of a Farm to School Program. This grant can help school gardens that aim to start or expand Farm to School efforts. This grant is a wonderful opportunity to net thousands of dollars for that deserving program at your school.